The Weekend At Gulfstream

by John Piesen

On Saturday, the eyes of the racing world will be on Gulfstream where five stakes races will be packaged as the Gulfstream Sprint Showcase:

They are:

1) The $100,000 Old Hat, a Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

2) The $100,000 Mr. Prospector, a Grade 3 for 4-and-up at six furlongs.

3) The $100,000 Sugar Swirl, a Grade 3 for fillies and mares, 4 and up, at six furlongs.

4) The $100,000 Spectacular Bid for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

5) The $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint for 4-and-up at five furlongs on the grass.

The shortest-priced favorite in the five stakes well may be Hockeythehayman, an unbeaten Songandaprayer colt whom trainer Wes Ward describes as "the most talented horse I've ever had."

How talented?

Well, he won his three starts last year, over three different racetracks, capping the year by winning a Keeneland allowance with a 101 Beyer number.

Then the other day, he was breezing at Gulfstream when Eclipse winner Stardom Bound loomed up besides him.

"She got within a length of my horse," Ward told DRF. "Then he just put it into another gear, and pulled away from her like it was nothing, with the rider throwing him down."

Ward also likes the chances of Strike the Tiger a week from Saturday in the $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes on the grass. This one may be something of a price because he is exiting a seventh-place finish in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs.

The Gulfstream main track traditionally favors speed, and judging by opening day last Sunday, this year will be no exception.

Seven races were run over the fast main track, and all but one winner won on the lead, or from just off the pace. In fact, all but one winner was first at the stretch (eighth-pole) call.

Another Gulfstream tradition is to bet the outside posts, as we saw on Sunday.

Six of the eight winners left from posts seven and beyond, and, of the two exceptions, one was Quality Road, who aired from post two in the Hal's Hope Stakes as the 2-5 favorite.

The bottom line: Looking ahead to Saturday and beyond, you need to focus on the speed from the outside.

Also last Sunday three jockeys -- Johnny Velazquez, Jose Lezcano and Joe Bravo -- posted doubles.

My best guess is that Johnny V and Lezcano will go on to dominate the Gulfstream standings, and that Bravo will have his best-ever Gulf meet.

For the first time in years, Bravo managed to get through 2009 without a major spill, and, approaching 40, he for once has no health issues. Moreover, he will be riding for the red-hot Kelly Breen barn, and specifically for the owners Hall.

I would expect jockeys Castro, Maragh and Garcia to ride their share of winners, but I won't be surprised if jockey Paco Lopez comes down to earth after dominating the Meadowlands meet.

I also have my doubts about jockey Leparoux.

Julian is a very talented rider, and a contender for the '09 Eclipse, but he may tail off in south Florida. He had only one second to show for seven rides on opening day.

Look for Pletcher to again dominate the trainers' standings. The Toddster got off to a fast start Sunday with two winners, including Quality Road, and he is loaded with fast horses -- young and old, dirt and turf.

No doubt other New York outfits, notably Mott, Dutrow and Jerkens, will thrive at Gulfstream, as will New Jersey trainers Breen, Hills, Mazza and Sacco.

Look for Greg Sacco to have a major 3-year-old at Gulf named Piscatelli, who may make his season debut in the Holy Bull.

Another trainer loaded with 3-year-olds is Patrick Biancone.

Biancone, back at Gulfstream after a 10-year absence, won the first race of the meet with the 4-year-old Grand Captain, who has a license to improve. His best 3-year-old may be Pulsion, who had a nightmare trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after finishing second to 2-year-old champion Lookin at Lucky in the Norfolk Stakes.


To say that racing got off to a rough start in 2010 in New York and Florida would be something of an understatement.

In New York...

On Saturday, jockey Dominguez rode five losing favorites at Aqueduct, capped by the Todd Pletcher-trained Ibboyee, fourth at 2-5 in the Count Fleet Stakes.

One consolation:

Good guy Colum O'Brien won his first race in two years with Hudson Heights at $223, (the highest New York win mutuel since 1999), guaranteeing a Pick Six carryover into Sunday.

Alas, there was no Sunday.

After meeting with the jockeys early that morning, Big A management announced a Sunday cancellation due to the cold and high winds. But not to worry. Forecasters tell us it's going to remain cold and windy through January and February.

Look for more meetings, and more cancellations.

One consolation:

Weather permitting, there will be a 35K Pick Six carryover into Wednesday (see below).

And, on Monday, the New York Daily News, in its lead editorial, called for the virtual abolition of New York racing.

As for the New York Post, the new sports editor dropped Ray Kerrison's must-read weekly column, and blew off a year-end racing roundup.

One consolation:

Sports Eye is still in business.



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